Saying 'Bismillah' over non-halal food

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When Hubby and I started living together, it was obvious to me that there would only be halal meat in the house. It was early days and I was just starting to learn about Islam, so I did some research on halal food too. 

Before our first trip to Poland together I was searching for halal food there, and remember coming across a blog, where someone claimed that as they can't get halal meat, it's enough to say 'Bismillah' ('In the name of Allah') before eating - at that time Hubby just explained to me that it doesn't work like that.

Recently I came across this notion during a discussion on one of the Facebook groups, so I thought it would be a good idea to clarify the issue.

So, what is the truth?

Let's first clarify what 'halal' means. 'Halal' means 'permissible'. In reference to food and drink it is generally used term for foods permissible to Muslims, specifying both what foods are allowed and how they need to be prepared. Most commonly it addresses the meat and poultry.

There are several references in the Quran regarding what's permissible for consumption:

O you, who have believed! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you with, and be grateful to Allah, if it is indeed He Whom you worship.
He has forbidden you only the Maytatah (dead animals), and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah (or has been slaughtered for idols etc., on which Allah's name has nt been mentioned while slaughtering).
(Quran 2:172-173)

Made lawful to you this day are At-Tayyibat [all kinds of halal (lawful) foods, which Allah has made lawful (meat of slaughtered eatable animals etc., milk products, fats, vegetables and fruits, etc.). The food of the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them.
(Quran 5:5)

So eat of that (meat) on which Allah's Name has been pronounced (while slaughtering the animal), if you are believers in His Ayat (proofs, verses, revelations etc.).
(Quran 6:118)

Halal meat must come from a supplier that uses the appropriate practices. The prescribed method of slaughter is called Zabihah/Dhabihah: the head of a slaughtered animal must be facing qiblah, and the slaughter must be performed with a well-sharpened knife to swiftly cut the throat. In addition, the slaughterer must be a Muslim, and he needs to utter 'Bismillah' before performing the cut.

If it's explained in the Quran itself, why do people believe they only need to utter 'Bismillah' before consuming non-zabihah meat to make it halal?

This misconception can possibly come from misinterpretation of the hadith, narrated by Aisha:

A group of people once said to the Prophet (pbuh): "Some people have come to us with meat, and we do not know whether the Name of Allah has been mentioned over it or not. He replied: "You yourselves mention the Name of Allah over it and eat."

 What can we actually understand from this hadith, is that these people were doubtful. Nowadays, living in a non-Islamic country, we can most certainly tell that the mass-produced meat generally available in the shops hasn't been slaughtered according to Islamic law, and Allah's Name wouldn't be mentioned over it. Therefore, if we KNOW for sure that the meat is not zabihah, we are not permitted to consume it.

One may argue, that we are permitted to eat the food from the "People of the Book", ie. Jews and Christians. However, there are certain conditions that need to be met in order for the meat to be permissible:
  1. The meat should be slaughtered as Muslims do it, through slaughter by cutting the throat and letting the blood flow.
  2. No name other than Allah's can be mentioned over it - one can't say, for example, "in the name of Messiah".
  3. Meat must not be sacrificed for their religious festivals (even if no name other than Allah is invoked over it). 
To summarise, to eat meat from the People of the Book one would have to know the conditions of slaughter, and whether the slaughterer is actually a Christian or a Jew - meat from the atheist or idol-worshipper will be haram. The animal also cannot be killed by stunning! As per information from the Humane Slaughter Association's website, in the UK "Large scale processing plants slaughter poultry using electrical water baths or gas". Your usual supermarket chicken will not be halal then.

Generally speaking, when travelling abroad, if you don't find meat marked 'halal', it's best to avoid it altogether. "Avoid whatever you have doubts about in favour of what is not (doubtful)" (Tirmidhi). In other words: if in doubt, leave it out! If you can't find halal meat in a place you're travelling to, consider fish and vegetarian options. If you live far from the source of zabihah meat, maybe it's a good idea to stock up on larger quantities once in a while?

Eat not (O believers) of that (meat) on which Allah's Name has not been pronounced (at the time of the slaughtering of the animal), for sure it is Fisq (a sin and disobedience of Allah). And certainly, the Shaytain (devils) do inspire their friends (from mankind) to dispute with you, and if you obey them [by making Al-Maytatah (a dead animal) legal by eating it], then you would indeed be Mushrikun (polytheists) [because they (devils and their friends) made lawful to you to eat that which Allah has made unlawful to eat and you obeyed them by considering it lawful to eat, and by doing so you worshipped them, and to worship others besides Allah is polytheism].
(Quran 6:121) 


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